Boundaries is a dramedy about single mother Laura (Vera Farmiga) taking her estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer) and socially awkward son Henry (Lewis Macdougall) on an involuntary road trip. Jack is crotchety and wasn’t emotionally present for Laura’s childhood, Henry draws people naked (which everyone reacts to as if he is a budding serial killer) and gets expelled from school, and Laura hoards animals and doesn’t believe in herself.
As dysfunctional family comedies go, Boundaries presents nothing new in the trope, which would be fine if only it weren’t working so hard to tug at the heartstrings. With the exception of Plummer, a delightful appearance by Christopher Lloyd, and another by Kristen Schaal as Laura’s sister JoJo, there really aren’t enough likable characters to draw in the viewer. Laura is at times shrill and self-centered when she is supposed to be sympathetic, Henry is sullen, and Jack is emotionally distant, offering arch commentary on Laura’s mistakes even as he strongarms his grandson into helping him sell weed. Yes, there is a weed angle.
You can probably guess how the film ends, but spoilers will still appear below the cut, as always.
Right away, the concept of needing to draw boundaries within relationships is established in the opening scene, as Laura talks with her therapist about refusing to take Jack’s calls. This little victory is quickly overturned, as Laura has a kitten hidden in her bag, which her therapist calls her out on.
When Laura finally answers her phone, she learns that Jack has been thrown out of his rest home for growing weed. What doesn’t make sense is that he attends a meeting of the rest home’s board members about it, and yet a day or so later, when his daughter comes to pick him up, his growhouse is still intact with nary a cop in sight. He stuffs a branch down his grandson’s pants and they’re on there merry way – except Jack has 200k in weed in his luggage. He needs to make the trip in order to deliver his product.
Laura wants no part of the road trip, until her father lies and tells her he has Stage 4 prostate cancer. Incredibly, she asks ‘Why didn’t you tell me,’ when we have just established that she has been avoiding his calls. She accuses him of lying, which establishes his history of telling falsehoods, and will pay off later when he confesses that he doesn’t actually have cancer in what is intended to be a funny scene. Unfortunately, it falls flat.
As mentioned, one of the few bright spots in the film appears when the family make their way to see Stanley, an old friend of Jack’s, played by Christopher Lloyd. Stanley is an old hippy taking care of his adult special needs son, and it is revealed sotto voce that Jack adores him, Skyping with the young man every Saturday. However, the import of this is utterly lost on Laura, who only sees Jack in a new light when he compliments her.
Lessons are learned, there’s an oddly effective moment where Laura and Jojo perform ‘Gloria’ once the family reaches Los Angeles, but the components all gel far, far too late in the film. Jack ditches the family in LA and then drives himself home as Laura and Henry fly with all their animals, thus rendering the entire point of the trip, for him to live with Jojo, moot. Laura is upset that he has abandoned her again, and then she and Henry immediately abandon Jojo, whose genuine excitement at seeing her family is one of the few sweet character moments in the whole film. This latter problem is explained away by Jojo, who says she has come to accept that her father was untrustworthy and would always disappoint her, which creates an uncomfortable subtext concerning her relationship with Laura – that Laura has become her father, basically.
Boundaries may have begun with an interesting script and certainly had A-list talent, but it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to qualify as an effective drama, and the comedy is mostly atonal.
Boundaries opens Friday, July 6th.